In Part 16 of "Song of Myself," Walt Whitman lists a number of paradoxes. All of them can be used to illuminate Whitman's thematic concerns, which are part and parcel of Whitman's social/political/global concerns as well. The first stanza of section 16 begins as follows,
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff
that is fine, (16 1-5)
Whitman's very first statement, "I am of old and young," sets up the initial paradox. Here the narrator declares allegiance with two seemingly different groups. His next paradox, aligning the self with "the foolish as much as the wise" follows suit. How can one be of both of the foolish and the wise? The rest of the stanza continues this pattern. The narrator is both maternal and paternal, child and man, coarse and fine. Further along, the narrator identifies as both Northerner and Southerner, further expanding on the geographical paradox by describing himself as both Yankee and Kentuckian, as well as "At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine,/ or the Texan ranch" (16 20-21). By the end of Section 16, Whitman has given the reader a number of paradoxes, but he has also left behind a number of ways to make sense of them, both in this section and others.
On lines 22-25 of this section, Whitman employs a refrain of the term "comrade,"
Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners,
(loving their big proportions,)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat,
The term "comrade" means "a person who shares in one's activities, occupation, etc; a friend." It is a term at the heart of Whitman's own worldview. "Song of Myself" is an epic study in the transcendent nature of the human experience. To Whitman, the individual body and soul are part and parcel of the collective that encompasses all human life. This is how Whitman's narrator can be Whitman himself, but he can also be old or young, Northerner or Southerner, or anybody else in the world (including you or me). To Whitman, we are all comrades; we all share life and, if we allow ourselves to, we can all experience things through one another. In the words of the great gray poet's himself, "[...] what I assume, you shall assume/ For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you" (1, 2-3).